Why is the Food Industry Spending $50 Million to Confuse Consumers?

Confused at the grocery store

image: fiterature.com

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) are two trade groups representing the largest food companies in America. They are under pressure  from their member companies to alleviate the threat of the FDA’s new nutrition label, which was recently announced at the White House.

Why is the new nutrition label a threat?

Because it actually makes sense. Consumers will have a better understanding of how many calories they actually consume instead of puny portion sizes. Consumers will know just how much sugar was added to their bread, pasta sauce, or trail mix.

The food industry does not like this. Let’s be more precise: the companies selling crappy foods don’t like this. As a result, not one week after the FDA’s historic announcement, the GMA and FMI have brought out the heavy guns. The 2 organizations will be spending 50 million dollars to “educate” consumers on how to understand their Front-of-Pack labeling scheme called Facts Up Front.

Facts Up Front Label

This voluntary labeling program was announced 3 years ago and has been adopted to some extent by some manufacturers. We did not think highly of it then, nor do we now. Here’s what we wrote:

  1. There is no color coding of the nutrient info, so a consumer does not know if a certain amount of sodium or fat is high or not.
  2. The value for sugars is very confusing. Is 14 grams a lot or a little?  Also, how much of the sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added? Naturally occurring sugars (in fruit, veggies, dairy) at least come with additional nutrients. Lastly, there is no indication of the daily value for sugar consumption. (By the way, The 14 grams in the example above are 3.5 teaspoons of sugar.)
  3. Including 2 positive nutrients on the label will confuse consumers – A product high in saturated fat but also high in fiber – is it good or not?  This will also encourage excessive fortification of foods just to appear healthy. You can fortify cardboard with some vitamins, it still won’t make it healthy to eat.
  4. There is no way to know how processed a food product is just by looking at the front of pack. Consumers should be encouraged to read the ingredient list.

So why are the GMA and FMI moving forward with this?

The hope is that this will put pressure on the FDA to rethink some of the planned changes for the nutrition label. We hope the FDA will simply ban these industry initiatives and adopt the front-of-pack labeling scheme that was suggested by the Institute of Medicine.

  • http://www.greeneyedguide.com/ Danielle Robertson

    This article by Nutritional Outlook on the new food labels addresses all the concerns above, especially the part about highlighting whether a nutrient should be limited in the diet or consumed more: “FDA Wants to Update Nutrition Facts Labels” at http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/news/fda-wants-update-nutrition-facts-label
    The line about “how processed” a food is makes me laugh because I get where you’re coming from but Fooducate did an article that illustrates the risk of using this black-and-white strategy to decide whether something is “good for you” – See Fooducate “Look at all those Chemicals in a Banana”.
    The new food labels are coming, and if they look like Image 2 in the Nutritional Outlook article, it should help consumers get a better sense of what they are eating.

  • Brittani

    I love fooducate but I have to say, if someone is too dumb or lazy to turn the box around and glance at the nutritional information that is printed DIRECTLY ON THE BOX, then that’s their own fault.

    • Michael Nas Moody

      I agree. I do it all the time before buying something.

  • Dani

    What do you mean by color coding exactly?

    • EVIL food scientist

      “Good” ingredients and listed as green.
      “BAD SCARY EVIL” ingredients are listed as RED!

  • JKern

    David Katz, MD, a pretty smart guy when it comes to nutrition said of his NuVal labeling system “don’t let ‘great’ get in the way of ‘good’”. Or expressed anotherway — there’s no damned way you’re going to get consensus on labeling, but do SOMETHING that helps and stop shooting for perfection.
    Hemi, are you really hauling out a four-year-old piece of news about FMI and GMA to get your $50 million? (If not, please quote your sources.)
    There are two realities here. First, a front of pack label will never be as good as the full label. It’s “Labels for Dummies”. It may help some people. But as Brittani notes, if you’re too lazy to read the label, well, hell, that’s your problem. Second, understanding nutrition will never ever be simple. You have to spend some time learning.
    Hemi, you are smart enough to know that sugar and added sugar are not easily resolved. Why are you throwing in to this mix? Remember when fat was bad and we substituted? Well, welcome to added sugar. Manufacturers will just add something sweet that isn’t classified as a sugar and get you even more confused.
    And I don’t understand your last statement. Are you totally against FOP labels? If you are, just say so.

  • Michael Nas Moody

    I agree. I do it all the time.

  • Chloe Padilla

    Why do they want to confuse people? They should do realistic amounts of tuebproduct that an average person can eat on the nutrition label. That’s what confuses people!!!!!